Motorsports

Wednesday, Jul 24 2013 10:04 PM

Kern Raceway put fans first on tough night

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    By John Harte / The Californian

    Charlie Beard, CEO and president of the new Kern County Raceway Park, watches as racers took to the track for practice in this April 20 photo.

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BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer mgriffith@bakersfield.com

What happens when you throw a party but the guest of honor doesn't show up?

That was sort of the case last Saturday night in one racing division at Kern Country Raceway Park.

The Irwindale Trucks had been scheduled to compete but just one driver showed up at the new paved track.

Legends and Bandoleros were on hand to compete on the quarter-mile track but with basically a no-show by truck drivers, action on the half-mile was going to be limited to an exhibition race between about a half-dozen Street Stocks.

So management did the right thing: they let everybody in for free, getting the word out by social media. Those who purchased tickets in advance were given tickets to the races this Saturday night.

"If you don't give the people what you promised them, then don't take their damn money," track president Charlie Beard said.

It's been a tough go at the new track, which sat dormant and partially finished for several years before construction started last year and finished this year.

The planned opening was delayed twice due to construction delays and even when the track opened -- May 18 -- it was without an elevator (it is now up and working) for the four-story superstructure.

Racing in general, on both the quarter-mile and the half-mile, has been pretty good but the car counts leave much to be desired.

The Late Models generally average around 12, but drawing the faster, and far more expensive Pro Late Models has proved to be tough, even with a couple of purses paying $8,000 and $5,000 to win. The most true Pro Late Models for any race (some Late Models have joined in to boost fields) has been about eight.

The Sport Mod fields have also been low, though there is talk of many new cars in the works, just as there is in the Late Model division.

And the Street Stock division only came about recently as several racers asked the track to create one. Rules were just set last month. Those cars could be back in action on Aug. 17.

But until last Saturday night there had always been enough cars in the featured division to at least put on race.

Disheartening?

"Yes," Beard said. "The thing of it is, this is the only thing I've ever known where you put on a show but you don't know what kind of act is going to show up."

But Beard, who owns General Petroleum Services and has had several other successful business ventures, is not one to let a challenge get him down.

"This year I knew wasn't going to be gangbusters although I would have loved it to be," he said. "Things will pick up. We have the facility and we just have to get (the racers) to come here."

There has not been pavement racing in Bakersfield since Mesa Marin Raceway closed at the end of the 2005 season and Beard said it will take time to ramp up local interest.

"I know there are quite a few cars being built (Late Models, Sport Mods and Street Stocks), he said. "We just have to get the interest back up."

The track has tried to help racers get to the track in a variety of ways -- offering free practice on Friday night, tires and even a night's stay at a hotel.

None of that worked for the trucks, but Beard has not given up on being able to get a truck series going at the track next season.

"If the truck deal can ever get their act together -- I think they have three different divisions -- if we can get one set of rules and make this their home track, we can make it work," he said. "Whether that can happen, who knows. It's kind of like getting a new dog and an old dog to think the same way."

Beard would like to see growth in all the regular divisions for the rest of this season.

"I think we can get the car count up, we're working hard at it," he said. "It's taking time. We've had issues, things weren't ready ... at least we got in, got our feet wet, found things we had to do."

And while this season is far from over -- there are 14 more race dates including the Spears SRL Southwest Tour on Sept. 7 and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West on Oct. 26 -- Beard is already formulating plans for next season.

"I have confidence next year will be a lot bigger, great for racers, plus we want to have concerts, car shows and whatever else we can."

Saturday night will be the 10th event of the season and feature Late Models in twin 35-lap features. Also in action will be Spec Mods, Mini Stocks, Legends and Bandoleros. Racing starts at 7.

Four divisions at Speedway

IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, American Stocks and Ignite Midgets compete on Saturday night at Bakersfield Speedway.

Larry Hood and Brad Pounds are locked in a tight battle for the IMCA Modified championship with Hood holding a three-point edge.

Hood has raced to just one victory, but has seven other top four finishes as consistency has been his strong suit.

Pounds drove to victory in the last race and has won five times this season.

Three-time winner Chad Johnson is the runaway leader in the Hobby Stock division, 82 points ahead of Joe Humphrey.

Matt Lewis holds a 42-point advantage over Ethan Dotson in the American Stock division.

Racing starts at 7.

Thorn heads into West race

Bakersfield's Derek Thorn raced to a Spears SRL Southwest Series victory last Saturday night at Rocky Mountain Raceways in West Valley, Utah and will be switching cars this week as he guns for another win in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West action.

Driving for Bakersfield's Byron Campbell, Thorn led the final 45 laps of the NAPA Auto Care Five Star 150 in Utah for his second straight SRL win and fourth in five races this season.

Thorn won six races and the SRL title last season, but is not running for the championship in the series this year as he has missed one race. Still, he stands third in points, just two out of second,

Thorn will be at the wheel of Bob Bruncati's Sunrise Ford car on Saturday night as he looks to extend his slim lead in the West series in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Colorado National Speedway.

Thorn, who finished third in West points last season, is coming off a win on the road course at Sonoma on June 22 and won earlier this year in Stockton. He has finished all six races in the top five is three points ahead of three-time winner Michael Self.

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